The Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Chicago Bulls, 127-108, at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Thursday night.
Joel Embiid had 30 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks in 33 minutes for the Sixers, while Ben Simmons (13 points, 11 assists and 13 rebounds) contributed to the cause with a triple-double. Zach LaVine had 30 points for the Bulls, and seventh overall pick Wendell Carter Jr. had eight points, three rebounds and three assists in his NBA debut.
Healthy Joel Embiid Looks the Part of MVP Candidate
Joel Embiid has always been viewed as a talented basketball player; the only question mark with him has always been his ability to stay healthy.
The 7'0", 250-pound center made it through most of last season in good health (63 games played) and was named an All-Star in his second season on the court while averaging 22.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 blocks per game.
His strong play helped Philadelphia snap a five-year playoff drought and advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Now, Embiid and the Sixers have put the basketball world on notice—and it's time for them to take the next step.
With LeBron James now with the Los Angeles Lakers, the East is up for grabs. The Boston Celtics made a statement with a 105-87 victory over Philadelphia in the season opener on Tuesday night, though Embiid had a solid night with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
The 24-year-old big man followed that up by nearly posting a double-double (19 points and eight rebounds) in the first half against the Bulls on Thursday.
Chicago may not be a top-tier team, but Embiid was able to do whatever he wanted all night.
Philadelphia has playmakers throughout its roster, from Ben Simmons and Dario Saric to Robert Covington and JJ Redick. In the end, though, the Sixers will only go as far as Embiid takes them. If he continues to play at a high level throughout the regular season, Philadelphia will likely once again be battling for a top seed in the East.
While his MVP candidacy could ultimately come down to his health, Embiid's strong start to the season has let the league know that he is going to be a problem for opponents all year long.
Markelle Fultz's Shot Remains a Work in Progress
Markelle Fultz's rookie season was marred by a shoulder injury and questions about his shooting form.
Those were supposed to be a thing of the past by the time the 2018-19 season tipped off. Thus far, though, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick is still struggling with his shot.
Fultz spent time during the offseason working with basketball trainer Drew Hanlen on his shot. In an episode of the Talking Schmidt Podcast (h/t PhillyVoice's Kyle Neubeck) during the summer, Hanlen discussed the Sixers guard's "yips":
"With Markelle, obviously he has one of the most documented cases of kind of the yips of basketball in recent years, where he completely forgot how to shoot and had multiple hitches in his shot. So for me it was, 'Hey listen, how can I get this kid that was No. 1 in last year's draft back rolling and get him to the point where he was before, if not better?'"
Fultz himself later sat down with Stadium's Jeff Goodman and made it known that he expected to have a "great" season:
Sure, at two games into the regular season, there's no reason for Sixers fans to overreact just yet. But there is cause for concern.
Hanlen went so far as to say he felt Fultz's jumper would be "perfect" by the end of the summer. Well, the second-year guard went 2-of-7 from the floor against Boston and followed that up with a 5-of-15 performance against Chicago. Most notably, he passed up a wide-open three in the opening minutes and later received a standing ovation from the Philly crowd for rattling in a jumper.
Fortunately for Fultz and the Sixers, this game turned into a blowout in the second half, allowing him to take some low-pressure shots. That led to him making his first career triple:
Perhaps that will be the shot that helps get him going.
He finished the night with 12 points and five assists after helping put the game away down the stretch.
Don't forget Fultz is just 20 years old. There is plenty of time for him to develop, especially now that he appears to be healthy. For now, though, the Sixers will have to stay patient with Fultz and hope he figures out his jumper while developing confidence along the way.
Zach LaVine Provides Hope For Bulls' Future
Some questioned Chicago's decision to match the Sacramento Kings' four-year, $78 million offer sheet for LaVine this summer.
At least for one night, the 23-year-old provided hope for the future in Chicago.
LaVine missed nearly a year after tearing his ACL as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves in February 2017. He made his return to the court 11 months later as a Bull and worked on getting back to form.
Prior to the injury, the athletic guard was having the best season of his career, averaging 18.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 2016-17. That includes a career-high 45.9 percent from the floor and 38.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Those numbers may not jump out as max contract-worthy, but he was showing continued improvement during the season. As a result, he was becoming more than just a player who can throw down jaw-dropping dunks.
LaVine got off to a strong start (15 points in the first half) to help the Bulls hang with the Sixers early on:
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However, Philadelphia's talent ultimately proved to be too much. That doesn't take away from LaVine's solid performance, though.
Chicago likely won't compete with Philadelphia, Boston and the Toronto Raptors in the East, but after winning just 27 games a season ago, this season should be all about growth. The Bulls went out and added former No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker in free agency and drafted Wendell Carter seventh overall. With LaVine leading the way, the Bulls have some pieces to work with moving forward.
Philadelphia (1-1) will host the Orlando Magic on Saturday, while Chicago (0-1) will return to the Windy City for its home opener against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday.